Match 1: Justin Rose (Ryder Cup record: 9-3-2) Henrik Stenson (Ryder Cup record: 5-4-2) vs. Patrick Reed (Ryder Cup record: 3-0-1) Jordan Spieth (Ryder Cup record: 2-1-1)
No wasting time. The marquee match of the morning has Europe sending out this year’s British Open champ and Olympic champ. Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson went 3-0 as a team at the 2014 Ryder Cup. Team USA kicks off its latest redemption mission by reuniting Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, who were the only Americans who did anything two years ago at Gleneagles. Then, they were both rookies with very little expected of them. Now, they are expected to be America’s best. This is all good so long as they win. Now, it’s not exactly Phil and Tiger from 2004 (wait, wasn’t that Hal Sutton’s fault?) but a Spieth-Reed loss could start to deflate an American team that spent two years trying to pump itself up.
Match 2: Rory McIlroy (6-4-4) Andy Sullivan (rookie) vs. Phil Mickelson (16-19-7) Rickie Fowler (0-4-4)
The early morning glamour pairings continue with American sweethearts Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler taking on Rory McIlroy and that English guy who loaned his putter to a fan and cost Justin Rose $100 during Thursday’s practice round. Andy Sullivan will be the first Ryder Cup rookie to see action this year so keep an eye on him. Europe has six rookies on the team so there is no way to protect them from Friday morning foursomes.
“I’ve talked to quite a few of the guys about the first tee shot as well as other things and they said they are not sure which golf ball to hit most of the time,” Sullivan said.
There will be a lot of pressure on Mickelson to play well this week most of which he brought on himself. His ill-timed comments on Wednesday about 2004 Ryder Cup captain Hal Sutton will only grow in significance if he can’t get it done at Hazeltine. If America loses there is a good chance Mickelson could end up the scapegoat. The overhaul of Team USA’s philosophy and strategy began with his comments about captain Tom Watson at Gleneagles and he has had his say at every turn since. After losing eight of the past ten Ryder Cups, most people agreed drastic change was a good idea but back-patting can quickly turn to back-stabbing if the great new formula is a bust.
Match 3: Sergio Garcia (18-9-5) Martin Kaymer (4-3-3) vs. Jimmy Walker (1-1-3) Zach Johnson (6-6-2)
Europe’s Ryder Cup hero Sergio Garcia has flown under the radar for much of the week’s build-up. Beloved by fans at European Ryder Cups but a favourite punching bag for American fans, Garcia seemed to catch a break when PJ Willett did his best to turn his Masters champ brother Danny into public enemy No. 1 at Hazeltine. Unfortunately for Garcia, Willett isn’t playing Friday morning so it could be the same old treatment for Garcia although I’ve yet to meet a rude Minnesotan.
In case you haven’t heard, Zach Johnson is gritty. Pretty much every time he’s ever in contention you’ll be told ten times about his gritty grittiness. The new and improved Jimmy Walker showed steely nerves in winning this year’s PGA Championship so this duo could be underrated. As always, it’s impossible to guess which Martin Kaymer will show up.
Match 4: Lee Westwood (20-15-6) Thomas Pieters (rookie) vs. Dustin Johnson (4-3-0) Matt Kuchar (4-5-2)
Lee Westwood might be considered a bit of a surprise to play in the first session but no doubt captain Darren Clarke is trying to shield 24-year-old rookie Thomas Pieters. The forever boyish Westwood appeared to have serious trouble on Thursday describing himself as a “veteran” but after eight Ryder Cups he should provide a calming influence. Dustin Johnson is fresh off a Sunday collapse at the Tour Championship but there’s a decent chance he doesn’t even remember. Johnson and Kuchar are the heaviest favourites of the morning and going out last this somewhat unappealing match might prove pivotal.